ATF AU (Seven)
Notes: December 2004 (The Holy Crap it's that time again) - offered by Beth B
I would love to see the guys (all seven) or as close to it as you can come, in a desperate situation--I mean desperate! Either all seven are hurt, or none of them are. It can be anything from blood blisters trapped under fingernails to exhausting every nurse and doctor at the local hospital (they don't have to have the same injury, LOL). Any time of year, any AU (as long as it's open)...but bonus points for using the green-river-killer and stocking stuffer in the same sentence!
This was edited by me so please forgive the mistakes!!
Please email me with questions and comments, I don't bite
The convention in Seattle hadn't been what they had expected, but they rarely were. Long hours of sitting at conference tables and listening to executives spew their ideas of how departments should and should not be run had not just exhausted Chris, but the rest of them as well. Ezra, having just come off a six month undercover assignment, looked like the walking dead, and having fallen asleep twice during the duration of the lectures, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he snapped. Buck didn't look much better, but considering he'd spend the majority of the time in Seattle recovering from a bout of ptomaine poisoning, he looked much better than he had. The greenish hue from his face had finally ceased.
Chris kicked his duffle bag, wishing that he'd made later arrangements for getting home. Once again, the team was on the chopping block. This would make the third time in three years, and the fear of it happening was becoming chronically old.
JD sat on the bright orange chair reading about technology. Buck sat next to him, flipping through a People magazine. His gaze was cast elsewhere, on the blonde ticket agent whose smile seemed inviting, but the dark circles under her eyes told a different story.
Josiah and Nathan were talking quietly over overpriced lattes and the problems with airport security. Ezra dozed on the floor, having given up on appearances for his need to sleep. His head was propped on his brand name duffle bag. He consistently swiped at the long feather that Vin had managed to pick up at the gift shop for the single purpose of annoying him.
At times they were closer to children than adults, but at least they lacked the never ending energy that usually accompanies ones so young.
The speaker system crackled and the announcement of canceled flights had members of Chris's team groaning as well as other paying customers.
"Shit," Chris said, rubbing his forehead and then looking around the gate.
"What do you want to do?" Buck asked, tossing his magazine aside.
"We could pool our money and hire someone to fly us the hell outta Dodge," JD said, running his fingers through his hair.
"It's either that or go back to the shit we were doin' before this team got started." Buck leaned forward and rubbed his face.
Ezra visibly winced, but remained on the floor.
"With this storm comin', do you think we'll find a pilot willin'?" Vin asked, pulling the feather through closed fingers, finally allowing Ezra some peace.
"Undoubtedly, someone with the right amount of scruples would fly Gandhi through the Bermuda Triangle." Ezra rubbed his eyes. "There's always a right price." He bent his knees and grasped them to pull himself into a seated position.
Chris stood and stretched his shoulders. "I'll go searchin'."
A family of four walked by, the mother tried to comfort her daughter while her husband carefully walked with their son. Their vacation was over and it showed. The boy's eyes were red and the ear on his Mickey Mouse hat was bent.
"Think they'll shut us down if we don't make it back in time?" JD asked, running his fingers through his hair, silently reminding himself to get it cut.
"No," Josiah said, "we've got the highest case load for any department and the highest percentage of solved cases. It'd be foolish to shut this team down."
"This is the Bureau you're talkin' about, Josiah." Buck leaned back, laying his knee over the arm rest of his chair. "Not the most logical branch of the government."
Vin snickered: "No shit."
"They do this to everyone," Nathan said, gently rocking his coffee cup in his hand, "has something to do with the fact we're all a bunch of loose cannons. I was talking with Steve last week and his team was up for downsizing as well - and he's the director's son." He leaned back in his chair and lifted his leg, resting his ankle on his knee. "Don't sweat the small shit."
"Damn, Nathan," JD said, "you're a plethora of wisdom." He jumped when Buck slapped him with a magazine. "What the hell?"
"Plethora? Who the fuck says plethora-not one damn word out of you, Standish." Buck groaned and tossed the magazine on the pile. "Plethora-shit, JD, I've taught you better than that."
Ezra chuckled and shoved his duffle bag onto the chair behind him and then leaned back. "How wise is it to try and fly with this storm bearing in?" He kept his eyes closed, not.
"As long as the pilot gets clearance to fly," Josiah said, tossing his cup toward the trash bin. "I guess it's fine."
Chris whistled from the end of the long corridor and motioned for the rest of them to follow.
"Was that for his newspaper or his slippers?" Ezra asked, watching as the others slowly obeyed.
"Does it matter?" Vin asked, reaching out with his open palm to help Standish to his feet.
Ezra grabbed the extended hand and groaned as tired limbs protested.
Jarred Mahoney knew more about piloting small aircraft than Trump knew about money, at least that was how he advertised his abilities. Having flown for over 30 years, he knew the land layout as well as the precautions to take in critical situations and he assured Larabee that he could fly him and his team to Denver in time for them to get to work before the axe fell.
It was a twin engine plane that normally flew from Boise, Idaho, to Vancouver, British Columbia, but due to a special trip for a movie star, he'd flown to Seattle. Now, willing to make some extra cash, he'd decided to go ahead and fly to Denver in hopes that someone there may need to get back to Boise.
There wouldn't be a flight attendant or even a copilot. His plane was small enough to get past most state regulations. With only ten seats and no bathroom, he informed his guests to take care of any needs before he closed the main door.
Ezra had taken the seat in the back, combining the three into a narrow bed. Nathan and Josiah, the two largest of the group sat in the center, one on each side of the aisle. Buck and JD sat behind them. Vin and Chris took the seats behind the pilot's cabin. The only remaining seat with in the cabin with the pilot, unused but convenient.
"Okay folks," the pilot's voice crackled over the inadequate speaker system, "buckle your seatbelts, and make sure all your electronic crap is turned off-including cell phones-don't want it screwing with my controls...we might end up in Antarctica."
Vin cocked an eyebrow and looked at Chris while they listened to the pilot's conversation with the tower.
The plane jolted forward and then move into a steady roll toward the tarmac. Rain pelted the wings, pavement, and melted what little snow remained off the runway. The lights in the plane were shut off and the roar of the engines filled the cabin with sounds of tires on wet pavement.
Buck, hating to fly, grabbed the armrests as the plane slowly turned, paused, and then the sound of the pilot's voice accepting permission for take off. The forward movement shoved all seven back into their seats as the plane picked up speed.
JD looked out the window and watched a flash of lightening convulse its way through the sky. "Anyone else feeling sick?" he asked, as they slowly crept into the darkened clouds.
"Not now, JD," Buck said, keeping his eyes clenched as the plane slowly headed out.
"For your clarification, we'll be flying north to avoid the storm and I have made arrangements with Helena for a refueling stop and we should reach Denver in about three and a half hours." The pilot's voice echoed.
"We could have walked there faster," Buck said, releasing his grip and then stretching his fingers.
The sound of Ezra's belt buckle sounded and then followed by the sound of his duffle bag being tossed across the seat. JD turned and watched as Ezra pushed the arm rests up and stretched his legs across the seats. The man could sleep anywhere, but then, with his job, it wasn't a wonder why. JD shook his head and turned back around. He could see the edges of the book Josiah had his nose in. Nathan leaned back and had his eyes closed. Vin and Chris were talking, their voices barley audible over the sounds of wind and the roaring engines. Buck had grabbed a weapons catalog and was in the process of making a wish list. JD couldn't help but bring up a piece of Buck's past.
"Casey and I are going to Willow Springs for Christmas," JD said, toying with the calf of his pant leg.
Nathan chuckled and Josiah turned his head just enough to listen.
"Yeah," JD sighed, leaning back. "Thought we'd do some skiing."
Buck cocked an eyebrow. "Willow Springs?"
"Yeah, I heard they've got a really cool swimming pool and lunch bar." JD looked toward the window to hide his smile.
"Fuck you, Larabee!" Buck snapped. "You and your little dog too."
Chris raised his forearm off the armrest and pointed his middle finger toward the roof of the plane.
"It was a damn chocolate bar!"
Ezra started humming the theme to Jaws.
Buck grabbed his duffle bag and threw it in a perfect arch to land at Ezra's head. Satisfied when he heard a grunt he turned back around in his seat. "You weren't there, Standish, so shut up!"
"Why are you getting to upset?" JD asked, scooting low in his seat with his magazine.
"That's the last time I ever tell you a secret, Larabee!"
"You told it to everyone, brother," Josiah said, "you were just a little drunk at the time."
"Shit," Buck said, slumping down into his seat.
Nathan chuckled and lifted his head off the seat. "The oldest trick in the book for clearing a swimming pool - only you never noticed."
"And you got blamed." JD snickered and moved out of the reach of Buck's arm, narrowly avoiding the punch.
The cabin of the plane lit briefly as a lightening flash broke across the darkened sky. Buck grabbed the armrest of his seat as the plane jumped.
"Buckle up folks," the pilot said, "we're runnin' into some turbulence."
The clips of seatbelts sounded and just as Ezra sat up the plane jolted violently to the left and then the right, tossing him across the seats. Duffle bags and backpacks were bouncing across the aisle. The plane dipped to the right and Vin collided with the window, his right temple hitting the seal, causing a long cut from his hairline to the center of his right cheek.
Another bolt of lightening lit the cabin and Chris turned to look down the aisle. The plane dipped again to the right and he lost his grip on the armrest, forcing him to fall toward the floor, his ribs coming in contact with the armrest caused him to lose his breath and he forced himself upright when the plane jolted forward.
Ezra had slipped between the seats and continued to struggle to get reseated. He grabbed a metal bar beneath the seat in front of him when the plane tilted violently left, slamming him up against the side of the plane.
"What in the hell is goin' on?" Buck yelled, ignoring his bloody nose after colliding with Nathan's seat.
Another flash of lightening whitewashed the sky and the brief sight of snow tipped mountains caused Josiah to inhale deeply. "Shit," he said, looking toward Nathan.
The plane bounced, and then rocked back and forth violently. Josiah kept his eyes on the window and lightening flashed again, and this time the tops of trees came into view.
"We're going down!" Josiah yelled. He could see that Chris and Vin were seated, their bodies bouncing with the movement of the plane. He turned to his right and could see Buck gripping the armrests of his seat, trying valiantly to keep from hitting the window with his head. "You all right, JD?"
JD had squeezed his eyes shut and now refused to open them. "Shit, Josiah," he paused, trying to find his voice, "I'm scared."
Josiah nodded, and looked toward Nathan who was mentally preparing for the worst. "Ezra?" he called, trying to turn his head to get a better picture of the back seats. When he didn't get an answer he called again.
The plane dropped, causing everyone to leave their seats as much as their belts would allow. Ezra came off the floor, but managed to keep hold of the seat in front him. The scraping of trees sounded against the belly of the plane.
"Ezra!" Josiah called, "Shit!"
The plane jolted to the left. JD, Josiah, and Chris found themselves flung across their seats. Vin, Nathan, and Buck struggled as ribs connected with armrests. Ezra was once again tossed across the back seats and into the side of the plane. They dipped forward and then the crash of contact from the wing exploded sending portions of sharp metal into the cabin. It jumped again, the right wing connecting with trees and exploding as it sped over the mountain range. The plane jumped to the right, smashing against trees, boulders, and anything else that got in the way. The sounds were bone crushing, plexiglass shattered, metal was torn and bent, and fiberglass was splintered into a million fragments.
The belly of the plane split, ripping from top to bottom in the center...then it stopped. The brief echo of metal falling and creaking lasted only momentarily. Wind swept through the cabin, followed by rain. Lightening lit the sky with a steady progression of flashes.
Chris groaned, trying to push himself up from the floor. Realizing his chair had been bent forward he grasped his seatbelt and released it. He fell forward, landing awkwardly on his left side. He felt pain radiate through his ribcage and left arm. He gasped when he moved and he settled, trying to ride out the pain.
"Vin," Chris said, slowly pushing himself up. A flash of lightening gave him enough light to see by. He spotted Vin pushed up against the right side of the plane, tangled in his chair laying awkwardly to the right.
Nathan gasped when he moved his feet from beneath the chair in front of him. Both his knees were bruised, and a long gash ran from his elbow to his wrist, the cuff of his shirt still buttoned. He laid his head back against the headrest of his chair. The armrest was gone. He could feel a narrow stream of blood trickle down the left side of his face, but he lent it no concern as he gathered his wits. He took a deep breath and lifted his head, trying to settle the queasiness of his stomach. "Josiah?" he said, taking the time to look around.
"Give me...a minute," Josiah said, breathing slowly, trying to remove himself from the tangled mess. "Oh God," he said, wheezing against the pressure, "think I broke something."
"Take it slow." Nathan ignored the pain in his gut, his arm, his head, and he slowly removed himself from his seat.
Chris pressed his left arm against his ribcage and using the wreckage around him, crept his way toward Vin. Blood smeared the window and the right side of Vin's face and neck, discoloring the collar of his shirt. "Tanner," Chris said, gently placing his right hand on Vin's left shoulder.
Vin coughed, earning him a long drawn out groan to compensate for the pain it caused. He pressed his lips together and slowly moved his head just enough to get a better look at Chris. "Josiah was right," he muttered, lifting his right leg only to cry out when he bumped his ankle on a piece of metal from beneath his chair. "Shit!" he snapped, squeezing his leg above his knee.
Chris winced: "Don't move." He carefully squatted and noticed Vin's foot trapped beneath the metal frame of his seat. "Keep still, Vin, we'll have to get some help. Josiah, Nathan?" He winced, pushing himself too fast. "Buck?"
"I'm here," Buck gasped, pressing his head against the wall. His seat had been broken, but his seatbelt had held, causing bruising along his pelvis. Slowly, he sat up, using the back of Nathan's seat as leverage. He took a deep breath and fell back to his original position to prevent the urge to vomit. Sweat broke out on his forehead, and a chill ran down his spine.
"Buck?" Nathan asked, carefully moving around the broken and twisted seats. He placed his palm on Buck's forehead. "You feeling sick?'
Nathan nodded and then ran his hands along Buck's scalp, he paused. "You got a real good sized goose egg, Buck, don't want you to move until I say so. Anything else hurting?"
Buck lifted his left hand. "Check on JD, haven't heard anything from him."
"Stay still," Nathan ordered, before turning to check on JD.
JD's seatbelt had snapped, causing the kid to fall forward and land between his and Josiah's seats. His legs were cramped and tucked close to his chest. He was out cold, a steady trickle of blood escaping a cut lip, broken nose, and a long cut beneath his right eye. His left arm was broken and lying on the floor next to him, Nathan knew that much just by the way it was twisted. He reached out and slowly touched the arm, causing JD to spring his eyes open and gasp. "I'm okay," he said, not offering to move his hand.
Chris managed to find a flashlight and was carefully checking on each of his men. Josiah struggled in his seat and squinted his eyes when a flash of light caught him off guard.
"Stay still, Josiah," Chris said, keeping his left arm braced against his left side.
"Find Ezra," Josiah said, "he didn't answer me when I called out for him and I don't think he was belted in."
Chris ignored the discomfort in his side and immediately turned the light toward the back of the plane. A cold breeze hit his face and rain pelted his scalp. "Ezra!" he called, carefully moving toward the rear of the plane. "Ezra!" he called again, gently placing a hand on Buck's thigh as he passed. "You doin' all right?"
"Got any whiskey?"
"Then no, I'm not doin' all right." Buck carefully sat erect, moving slowly to avoid unsettling his stomach.
Chris looked toward the rear of the plane, noting the large gaping hole on the right side. Sharp jagged edges of metal looked like teeth within the mouth of a shark. "Ezra!"
Nathan stood from his position next to JD and looked behind the seat where Ezra should have been. "Oh God," he gasped, pushing past Chris to get a better look.
"Shit!" Chris snapped, tossing a duffle bag out of his way.
"What?" Vin yelled from the front. "What's goin' on?"
"Ezra's gone," Nathan turned.
Ezra grabbed the steel leg of the seat in front of him as the plane dipped violently to the left, sending him against the wall. His legs were tangled in loose seats, broken seatbelts, and duffle bags. The violent sound of the left wing of the plane sounded, knocking him across the seats causing him to collide with the far wall. He felt his left shoulder pop and grind when he was slammed between the seat and the floor. The plane shifted to the right and then immediately to the left, nearly turning onto the roof. Ezra followed the motions, turning in the air, slamming his head against the wall, and landing with a crash on his hip.
The eerie sound of metal ripping echoed throughout the plane as the right wing of the plane slammed against the trunks of trees ripping it from the body, sending shards and debris into the cabin. Metal pealed from the belly, opening it from middle to end.
Ezra reached for something, anything, to grasp as the winds entered. A blow from the left caused him to lose his position and he felt momentarily airborne...
"What do you mean he's gone?" Josiah said, ignoring his need to stay seated and he struggled to his feet.
"He's gone...he ain't here," Chris said, turning over seat cushions and broken debris.
Vin clenched his jaw and moved to stand, only to cry out when the fractured bone in his right ankle snapped. He fell forward. "Fuck this, somebody get me outta here!" He grabbed twisted pieces of metal and tossed them away.
Nathan moved to the front of the plane, to help Vin get situated while Chris passed him to check on the pilot. Nathan heard the sounds of switches being flipped and then Chris's voice calling for help over the radio. It didn't last long. He stepped out of the cabin of the plane and shook his head, pointing his flashlight toward the back of the plane, allowing the light to briefly land on each of his men's faces.
"Radio's out," he said, shaking his head, "and the pilot's dead."
Josiah stood, despite broken ribs, a sprained knee, and a broken toe and he made his way toward the gaping hole in the plane. Nathan gently removed Vin's ankle from its entrapment of twisted metal, and without thought the sharpshooter was using the last remaining piece of solid structure to stand.
"Let's go find Ezra," Vin said.
"You're not goin' anywhere," Chris said, grabbing the emergency kit from the small closet next to the pilot's cabin. He grabbed two blankets and pillows and then started clearing an area for Vin and Buck.
Buck was standing, but barely. Using the back of Nathan's seat, he steadied himself.
"Buck, you and Vin will stay here while the rest of us go lookin' for Standish."
"Bullshit, Chris, I can walk," Vin protested.
Chris shook his head and spread a blanket. "Maybe," he said, "but you'll slow the rest of us down and we don't have time for that."
Vin swallowed the lump in his throat.
Nathan helped Buck through the debris and got him situated on seat cushions and wrapped in blankets. Vin was next. Nathan removed Vin's lace up trackers, trying to ignore the sharp intake of breaths as the boot was pulled from the broken limb. Nathan elevated the leg.
"Don't try moving this, Vin, keep it as still as possible."
Vin nodded and looked toward Chris.
"We'll find him," Chris said, tossing as many useful supplies as he could find out of the weather. He grabbed anything he though that could be useful and looked toward JD who was standing near the opening of the plane. Josiah was already searching, and Nathan was looking through the meager medical supplies that would have to last for everyone once they were all safe.
"Be careful, Chris," Buck said, rubbing his temples with his fingers. His stomach flipped and his head wouldn't stop spinning.
Chris looked toward Nathan: "Ready?'
Nathan nodded, hating to leave, but knowing he had to. "Let's go."
Josiah looked out across the vastness of trees and mountains and felt for the first time a sense of hopelessness. He couldn't see anything that he recognized, and he had the presence of mind to look into the sky and try and find a familiar star, all of which were covered by black clouds. Lightening flashed in the distance, lighting the land only briefly before going back into hiding, sending them just enough hope to lift their spirits and then dash them.
"Any idea of where we are?" Chris asked, stepping up beside him.
Josiah ran a hand over his face and sighed; "I'm guessing the Bitter Roots, but I don't know where."
Chris nodded, having thought the same. "I caught a glimpse of the controls - and if they're right, we're about 180 miles off course...could be weeks before we're spotted."
"You didn't tell the others?"
Chris shook his head: "Want them to concentrate on surviving."
Josiah nodded, and inhaled lightly, trying to avoid the pain from his ribs. He limped forward and looked around, and then he reached back and took the flashlight from Chris' grasp. "I'm taller, and I can see further." He pointed in the direction that the plane touched down, finding scraps of metal, broken trees, and upturned earth. Snow rested in sections along boulders and along tree trunks.
"Ready?" JD asked, cradling his broken arm against his chest. Nathan had been kind enough to strap it against his ribcage and then help him into his jacket. He could go on without any trouble, as long as he kept his teeth clenched.
Using the lightening flashes, they took advantage of the amount of ground they could cover. JD and Nathan moved to the north of the plane, and Chris and Josiah moved south. The ground was wet, sloppy, and peppered with sheets of ice. Josiah moved slow, trying to keep his weight on his good leg, while trying to keep from slipping. Chris moved slow as well, he could feel his left thigh swelling. He had wrapped a portion of his shirt around the long gash, but it did little to aid the problem.
The wind swept through the trees, causing branches to bow and flex beneath the power. The rain was mixed with hail, and it pelted its victims relentlessly.
Ezra's first sensation was the relentless pounding of rain on the left side of his face. Mud soaked his pants, and his shirt. He shivered against the cold and immediately regretted it as his shoulder protested. "Shit," he said, gasping through bruised ribs and a pounding headache. The wind pinched his skin and he moved just enough to look at his surroundings.
The smell of mud was the first to hit his senses and he carefully pushed himself up using his right arm. Mud seeped through his fingers and he tried to fling it off. He gave up and wiped it on his pants when he slumped back onto his haunches. His left hip hurt, sending sharp pains through his gut and knee.
He spotted the remains of the plane a hundred yards ahead. The light of the moon faded as clouds swept by. Another flash of lightening lit the sky followed by a violent roll of thunder. Ezra reached up to his face to wipe at his eyes, succeeding only in smearing mud across his face. Bracing his left arm against his ribs he tried to stand, only to fall back on his hip and cry out when his ribs were jarred and his hip collided with rocks and the ground. He sat with his legs tangled beneath him, and tried to clear his head. He couldn't think straight, and his world continued to tilt.
"Think they'll find him?" Buck asked, moving uncomfortably on the blanket. His head swam and as long as he kept his eyes closed he didn't feel he would vomit.
Vin hissed when he moved, causing his ankle to shift. "Yeah," he said, holding back a shiver as a gust of wind hit him.
"I don't know, Vin," Buck said, running his fingers through his hair. "Maybe this is it."
"Shut up, Buck."
"I don't know...I can't imagine him surviving a fall like that, they may not find him."
"They'll find him...they have to."
Chris paused, bent over and rested his arm on his knee, trying to ride out a wave of pain. Every muscle twitched and sent tiny electrodes throughout his body. He could sue for this, couldn't he? Ezra would know, and he intended to ask when he found him. The government needed a swift kick on the ass with the crap they continued to pull.
"You all right?" Josiah asked, turning northward when he saw and watched a series of five flashes of lightening. A violent roll of thunder followed and immediately rain mixed with snow came down harder.
Chris stood straight and clenched his jaw. "Yeah." He wiped the moisture from his eyes and looked out, trying to spot something that would give him Ezra's whereabouts. "Shit, Josiah...we're fucked."
"No, brother, we're just postponed."
Chris looked around, the sky, bright with lightening and thunder, rolled and moved across the land. Not knowing where they were, where to go, or how long it would be before anyone came looking - or knew where to look, his heart sank, and his chest tightened. The bitter wind caused his muscles to cramp and he had to lean over once again to catch his breath.
They couldn't stay out much longer, not in the weather, and not as beat up as they were. It had been too long already.
Josiah paused and moved the flashlight across the ground once more. He caught a glimpse of something white and sighed when it disappeared behind a collage of winter-warn bushes he returned the light to the position, but it was gone.
"I'm not sure," Josiah said, moving back toward Chris to help him upright. "I'll take you back to the plane and come back out and look around."
"No," Chris said, refusing the help. "Let's check it out...then we'll head back." He braced his arm against his side and slowly followed Josiah.
JD stumbled and fell forward, landing with a thud on the muddied ground. "Damn it!" He tried to push himself upright, but needed Nathan's help to stand.
"You okay, JD?"
There was a long pause and JD finally shook his head. His arm hurt and every time he moved he wanted to scream. His gut twisted and the urge to vomit kicked in. He took a deep breath and felt the blood drain from his face.
He leaned forward and took a couple of deep breaths; he felt Nathan's hand on his back. "I'm goin' to be sick."
Nathan nodded and looked toward the trees, having stayed within eyeshot of the body of the plane. "Think you can make it back okay?"
JD nodded and stood. "Shit, Nathan," he paused, looking around, feeling flushed and weak, "what about Ezra?"
Nathan clenched his jaw and wrapped his good arm around the kid's waist, helping him back toward the plane.
Josiah limped forward, feeling the tightness of his knee and his toe. He wouldn't quit...he couldn't. Chris followed behind, moving slow as his injuries caught up to him. They'd check this last thing out, this last bit of hope as lightening lit the sky and a loud roll of thunder rumbled past.
Josiah swept the flashlight across tree trunks and past debris of the plane. He caught a glimpse of movement to his left. He turned back toward Chris and found him leaning against a tree. "You all right?"
Chris nodded and made movement to right himself when Josiah stopped him.
"I'll check it out, you stay put."
Chris nodded, too weak to protest.
Josiah walked past the tree and flashed the light in the direction of the movement.
Ezra swayed forward and then back, still sitting, legs tangled beneath him. Rain had washed the mud from his face. He had tried to stand on several occasions, only to fall until finally giving up.
The wind continued to bite at his skin and the rain relentlessly pounded. His head felt disconnected from his body, and at times he had to look up to remember where he was and even then the confusion was overwhelming. His hands shook as he reached to wipe his face, the cold, shock, and fear wrapping around him. He left a smear of mud across his cheek when he replaced his hand in the mud to steady himself.
"...Ezra...Ezra"" Josiah moved quickly through the rain. He limped forward, the flashlight remaining on the swaying form in front of him. "Ezra!" He placed a strong hand on Ezra's shoulder, and gently shook him.
Ezra looked up, but returned his gaze to the ground.
"Ezra?" Josiah said again, wincing when he gingerly knelt on his good knee. He grasped Ezra's chin and forced his gaze up. He could see blank, confused eyes staring back at him. Josiah shook his head and slowly stood, and looked back toward the plane. He moved behind Ezra and slipped his hands beneath his arms and slowly lifted, wincing when he heard painful gasps coming from Standish.
Ezra clenched his jaw and groaned when he felt his shoulder shift, his head lulled to the left, but he managed to keep to his feet as a strong arm snaked behind his back and grasped his hip. He clasped onto Josiah's jacket with his good hand, pulling tight.
"Can you walk?" Josiah asked, securing his hold. Without waiting for an answer he stepped forward and felt Ezra struggled to stay upright. "It's not far."
Ezra did the best he could, keeping his eyes on the bobbing flashlight. His feet dragging constantly, catching on broken sticks, old bushes, and stones.
"I've got him," Josiah said, flashing the light at Chris's chest.
Chris pushed his hand against the tree to stand erect. "Thank God," he said, walking forward as Josiah passed. He took a quick look around and shook his head, knowing their chances of survival were slim, and getting slimmer.
JD collapsed next to Buck, his face pale and chest heaving, recovering from his bout of dry heaves. Nathan ignored his own pain and discomfort as he tried to reassure his friends. Vin's ankle was swelling, and Nathan wouldn't be able to tell how bad the break was until he could get better light. Buck's queasy stomach had eased, but the dizziness continued.
Chris entered through the hole in the plane and flashed the light toward the front. "Josiah found him," he said, stumbling forward, catching his arm on the broken chair JD had been using. He took a deep breath, settling himself and trying to catch his breath.
Nathan grabbed Chris's arm before he could fall. "Sit," he said, guiding him into a seat. He looked toward the hole in the plane and sighed when Josiah half carried half dragged Ezra inside. Just as Nathan reached for the flashlight the light dimmed, he slapped it against his hand and waited for it to return to its original brightness. It didn't. "Shit," he said, pointing the light toward Ezra before it went out.
Josiah pushed Ezra against the wall of the plane, just beyond the reach of the weather and then sat beside him. Ezra's head lulled back against the wall with a thud. "Nathan," Josiah said, moving his hand across Ezra's neck to check for a pulse, "he's not cognizant."
"Damn it," Nathan swore, tossing the flashlight to the floor. "I can't do anything because I can't fucking see - even the moon' s hidden." He grasped his arm when the pain flared. "We could freeze to death before the sun rises."
"Not if we huddle together for tonight, and then we can figure out what to do tomorrow." Chris moved, wincing as his ribs protested.
"It's all we've got, Nathan."
Chris walked toward the back of the plane where Josiah sat with Ezra, but stopped suddenly.
Josiah heard Chris take a sharp intake of breath. "I'll get Ezra and meet you at the front of the plane, we'll be out of the weather up there, and...we won't have to move the others." Slowly, he stood, feeling the tightness of his knee and his foot. He grasped Ezra's shoulder and jumped when he cried out.
Ezra leaned forward, hugging his arm to his chest, barely keeping the tears from falling. He took several quick breaths and tried to focus. Josiah knelt next to him, gently rubbing his back and offering comforting words that didn't have any meaning.
"Ezra...we have to move again," he said, gently reaching out for Ezra's other arm. Josiah placed his hand along the right side of Ezra's chest and lifted, receiving a muffled moan. "That's it, brother."
They moved toward the front of the plane where Nathan had cleared an area large enough to seat them. Vin yelped when his foot was bumped. Apologies were made as everyone got settled. Nathan wished for aspirin and morphine as he took a seat beside Josiah, knowing he couldn't do anything until dawn...even then he would be limited.
A cold wind swept through the belly of the plane, causing Buck to shiver and JD to snuggle further down into the blankets covering him. Vin coughed, wincing when his chest and head protested. He tried to wiggle his toes on his leg and failed, feeling the tightness of skin to his knee. Chris took a deep breath and immediately regretted it, he let it out slowly as his ribs protested. He looked to his left hand noticing the swelling and the stiffness of his wrist to his elbow. He looked at Josiah and noticed he was having as much difficulty as the rest of them. Nathan was now standing and at the hole in the plane, looking out into the vastness of trees. Ezra lay with his head against Josiah's shoulder, oblivious to the world.
Nathan stepped toward the group with his hand braced against his stomach. He squatted and looked toward Chris. "There's a trail about fifty feet north of the plane, looks like an old one...maybe a horse trail, I found a thrown shoe." He tossed it to the ground, letting it clang and clatter against metal.
"What are you talkin' about, Nathan?" Chris got a better look at him, noticing the bloody and swollen hand.
"I'm going to walk up that trail a ways and see if it leads anywhere and then I'll be back...I won't be gone any longer than I have to be."
"There's another storm comin', Chris, if I don't find a place for us to stay, there won't be nothing left of us to find when they send out rescue planes."
Chris ran a hand over his face and nodded. He looked at his men, his friends, and sighed. "One hour, don't be gone any longer than one hour, and if you don't find anything, we'll make due here."
Nathan nodded and turned to leave, knowing he couldn't fail.
Chris turned questioning eyes in Josiah's direction and saw what he feared the most.
Nathan pulled his jacket up and around his neck, warding off the bitter wind as he followed the muddied trail. The rain had froze during the night, icing the snow and leaving small rivets in the ground where portions had collected during the night. The branches of the trees moved to and fro as the wind swept. The trail wasn't anything more than a narrow path of nothing, no weeds or bushes, and minimal stones. It looked like a hiking path that had been covered in snow over the winter months.
Nathan looked ahead, wishing he could do more. Guilt ate at him, and he hated it, the feeling of helplessness. His friends needed him, broken bones, contusions, dislocations, and abrasions would fill his day...and he didn't have anything to treat them, except the use of a simple first aid kit that included band aids and tape. What they needed he didn't have.
He looked at his watch, having seen nothing of use. No signs of litter: soda cans, candy wrappers, or even tissues. He needed something to tell him there was life in these mountains...more than just the seven of them. Nathan looked down and yelped when his ankle twisted, sending him forward onto the muddied ground.
"Shit!" Nathan sat up, trying to wipe the icy mud from his clothes and face. "SHIT!" The gash on his arm had reopened. Slowly he got to his feet, keeping his arm close to his chest. He looked around and paused, seeing a flash of bright green in the haze of browns. His heart started racing as he looked closer, the roof of a cabin. "HELLO!" He rushed forward, moving off the trail and toward the building. "Somebody help!" He ignored the slapping of branches against his face, limbs, and body. "HELLO!"
Nathan stumbled and fell again, this time sliding down a short incline. He landed on his backside next to a tree and slowly regained his feet. "Somebody!" he yelled, moving toward the front of the cabin. He paused, realizing what he would look like to a stranger. A black man, covered in blood and mud looking and screaming half crazed in the mountains of Northern Idaho.
It was small, and the windows were covered with wooden shutters. A small covered porch hid the door. A barn was in the distance, surrounded by wooden fence. It too was closed up, probably for the winter.
Nathan sighed and reached for the door of the cabin. When it opened he peeked inside. "Hello," he said, looking at the sheet covered furniture. He took a deep breath and pushed the door open, realizing it was empty, and would remain so until summer arrived. He pulled the sheets from the furniture, looking for a radio - a phone, anything that could let someone know they were alive. He sighed when he didn't find anything, but was thankful they would have a place to stay until that time came. He closed the door behind him and started up the path toward the plane.
Chris carefully removed the makeshift bandage from Vin's ankle and winced at the harsh colors of blue, black, and purple.
"That bad?" Vin pressed his lips into a tight smile and tried to make himself more comfortable pressing his hands to the ground and shifting his seat, only to wince when he moved his foot.
"It ain't pretty," Chris said, rewrapping the foot. "How're you feeling, JD?"
"I'm not pukin' anymore."
Buck chuckled, rubbing his forehead.
"How about you, Buck?"
"I'm never goin' to have sex again."
"Ain't funny, kid, my dick looks like Vin's leg."
"Only smaller?" Josiah chuckled.
"Fuck you, old man!"
Chris pressed his lips together to keep from laughing and shook his head. "What's the matter?"
"That seatbelt nearly castrated me!"
Chris' face straightened: "Are you cut?"
"You could bleed to death, Buck," JD said, leaning forward to catch a glimpse.
Buck raised the blankets and fiddled with his pants before lowering them. "No, I ain't cut, but everything's blue and black and fuckin' purple - it ain't supposed to be purple, Chris, at least not like this!"
"Hell, Buck, you're only bruised, you'll be back to transfixin' the ladies in no time." Vin winced when he looked at his oversized toes.
"Transfixing?" Buck said, looking toward Vin. "Are you shittin' me, Tanner? Transfixing, I don't transfix anything, Vin, I...what's the word I'm lookin' for?"
Everyone turned to Ezra who was partially hidden by Josiah's form.
"He ain't answering anything for a while," Josiah said, pulling the blanket covering Ezra down to his hip, exposing a bloodied, bruised, right arm. His shirt was torn and splattered with blood, and Josiah didn't need to guess what was beneath it. He brought the blanket back up over Ezra and sighed.
"Nathan should be back shortly," Chris said, wishing something would go right. "Maybe he can take a look if you're that worried." He looked toward Buck with a grin.
"Oh, har-dy-har-har." Buck pulled the blanket further up his chest.
A gust of wind picked up, carrying with it a bitter cold breeze. Chris turned when he heard Nathan enter the plane, and immediately take a seat in the back.
"I found an abandoned cabin; think it belongs to someone who comes up here for the summer. It's got a fireplace and a little bit of canned food, no electricity and no radio that I could find, but it'll be a place out of the elements." He leaned forward, gripping his arm, feeling it throb beneath his ministrations. "That storm's coming up fast, so we need to get out of here. I'll come back up in a day or two to get the radio from the plane and maybe we can fix it back at the cabin, but right now, I think we should get ourselves out of here before we get snowed in or something." He stood and made his way to the front of the plane.
"How far is it?" Vin asked, clenching his teeth when Chris carefully lowered his foot from the seat.
"It'll take some doing, but we'll get there." Nathan moved to help Chris get Vin on his good leg. "Careful," he said, lifting Vin's leg by grabbing his knee and together, he and Chris moved him from the plane.
Vin placed his arm over Chris' shoulder and inhaled as he was carefully escorted from the plane. He shook as his muscles protested and the extent of his injuries surfaced. "How far is it?"
Nathan smiled and patted him gently on the back. "We'll get you there." Nathan turned and headed back into the plane where Buck and JD were struggling to their feet.
Buck placed his hands on his hips and bent forward, trying to ride out the pain from his midsection. His gut twisted and his head swam. Nathan reached out and placed a hand on Buck's back and helped him stand.
JD was standing and holding his arm close to his chest. He looked toward Ezra as Josiah tried to rouse him. "He okay, Josiah?"
"He will be," Josiah said, looking up and following Nathan and Buck with his eyes. "You'd better follow and hold Buck up when Nathan comes to help me."
JD frowned and then slowly did as instructed. He shivered when the cold wind bit at his skin. He watched Vin try to keep to his feet while Chris did his best to keep him upright. JD moved beside Buck and looked at Nathan who had taken over the situation based on need.
"Josiah needs some help with Ezra," JD said, carefully adjusting his grip on Buck, who looked ready to hurl.
Nathan nodded: "Start down that path, I have it marked with parts of my jacket - if something happens, stop and wait for me." He waited until he received answers before heading back into the plane.
Josiah was trying to rouse Ezra, slapping him gently on the cheek and shaking him by his good shoulder. Nathan knelt, feeling the tension in his knees and the sharp contact between flesh and metal as bruises reacted to motions.
"What happened?" Nathan reached out and placed his fingers against Ezra's pulse, sighing when he felt the steady beat. He pulled the blanket back, exposing the ravages that occurred the night before. "Looks like he landed hard when he fell from the plane." He pressed his hands along Ezra's ribcage, searching for a reaction as well as feeling for broken bones. Relieved when he didn't find any, he ran his hand over Ezra's head, feeling the dirt and dried blood behind his right ear. "EZRA!"
Josiah moved, carefully avoiding contact with his foot as he squatted next to Nathan.
"EZRA!" Nathan called again, slapping him on the cheek.
Eyes moved behind closed lids, but that was all. Ezra's lips parted and he inhaled deeply, and then his jaw clenched and his brow furrowed.
"Come on, son," Josiah said, gently lifting Ezra's head from the pile of clothes. "Ezra."
Ezra gasped and tried to open his eyes, only to breathe heavily and gasp again. He lifted his hand and tried to push Josiah's hand away.
Nathan removed the blanket completely and winced at the torn and bloodied clothing. "Ezra, can you stand?"
Josiah cocked an eyebrow. "Maybe you could ask him to run the Boston Marathon while you're at it." He shook his head and looked at Ezra. "He looks like he flew through a couple of trees and landed on Mt. Rushmore. I don't believe he's going to be walking for a while, brother." He reached out and gently slipped his hands beneath Ezra's arms and started to lift. He stopped suddenly when Standish cried out, gasping near hysterics.
"It's his shoulder," Nathan said, quickly placing the palm of his hand against the injury. "Damn."
Nathan pressed his lips and rubbed his chin with his good hand. He looked at his other, the swelling, discoloration, and dried blood that was coagulated on the makeshift bandage. "I can't..."
"Let's get him and the others to the cabin and we'll do what we can there." Josiah placed a hand on Nathan's shoulder.
Ezra had rolled onto his right side and fought with consciousness. He felt strong hands slip beneath his head and chest and slowly get him seated.
"Ready?" Nathan said, looking for Josiah's reply.
They looked like mummies, most having been wrapped from head to foot in sheets cut into bandages. Vin slept on the floor a few feet away from the fireplace, his foot elevated and taped between splints, and covered with a huge sock. His forehead had been cleaned and bandaged with Scooby Band-Aids that had been discovered in the bathroom. His face was bruised and discolored, but at least the initial injury had been taken care of.
Chris lay back in a chair, his ribs wrapped tight as well as his arm. His leg had been cleaned and stitched with sewing thread. He hadn't been happy, but at least he wasn't bleeding. A fever had spiked, but he now slept peacefully covered with an old quilt.
JD hugged his broken arm to his chest, even after Nathan carefully wrapped and splint it. His fingers were swollen and discolored. He tried to stay as still as he could, resting on an air mattress that had been found at the bottom of a storage closet. He'd managed to clean himself up, wiping the blood from his face and hands, and trying desperately to keep the lump by his temple from pulsating.
Josiah sat on the floor by the sofa, his foot elevated as his pinky toe continued to throb. Unable to do anything except let it heal in its own time, he continued to watch the toe turn black. Nathan had managed to apply cold presses in order to alleviate the pain, but it did little to help. Josiah's ribs had been wrapped, having broke one and bruised others.
Ezra lay on the sofa, oblivious to the world. He'd been stripped of his shirt and pants so Nathan could better asses his injuries. He was a bruise from head to foot on his left side, but nothing was broken. Josiah had helped Nathan reset Ezra's shoulder and he'd immediately lost consciousness.
"How's the arm, Nathan?" Buck asked, sticking the poker into the fire. His midsection hurt like hell, a few ribs were bruised, muscles were sore, but he was lucky.
Nathan sighed, tossing the medical tape back into the emergency kit he'd been fortunate to find hidden in the bathroom. "It'll scar," he said, watching as Josiah moved to make himself more comfortable. "But, I'll live."
"How about your knees?" Buck turned and cocked an eyebrow. "You've been walkin' like an old man around here, and I ain't blind."
Nathan shrugged and moved to press his palm against Vin's forehead. Relieved to find no signs of fever, he moved to take a seat on the chair next a pile of books. He looked exhausted.
JD winced when he adjusted his position and he looked toward the raging fire, thankful for the heat and the shelter. It was Christmas, but it didn't feel like it. He was supposed to be home with his girl for the weekend, and from there they were supposed to have dinner with Vin and Nettie, and hopefully, one of Vin's latest girlfriends.
"What's your favorite part of Chrismas?" He looked toward Nathan, hoping for an honest answer and knowing he would get one.
Nathan leaned back, watching as four sets of eyes landed on him, anticipating an answer. He thought about his family, and took a deep breath. "I'd have to say it would be family." He took a deep breath and smiled. "Defiantly being with Raine."
"When're you two goin' to get hitched?" Buck asked, running a hand through his hair, catching his fingers on twigs, clumps of dirt, and sweat.
Nathan shrugged: "Maybe sooner than you think."
Buck chuckled and winced when his pelvis shot pain through his midsection. "I ain't never goin' to have sex again." His voice was high and pinched. He pressed his arms to his waist and leaned into himself, tucking himself into a perfect 2.
"You'll have sex again, Buck," Nathan said, "it just won't be as fun." He snickered and looked toward Chris who was chuckling as well.
"You'll have to come up with different positions to better...accommodate your situation." Chris looked around the room and glanced toward the window as the snow started building up. He didn't let his worry show, as the idea of being trapped until spring hit him. Vin's leg wouldn't heal right, nor JD's arm...
Ezra turned on the sofa, and then gasped when he moved wrong. He looked toward the center of the room where everyone was spread out and sighed, knowing they were in a world of hurt. "No radio?"
Buck shook his head and continued poking the fire.
"What's the coolest thing you ever got in your stocking?" JD asked, rubbing his nose and looking toward the window and then toward the fire. "I got a box of World War II soldiers that I played with for years...lost 'em when I went to college."
"Toy soldiers?" Buck said, shaking his head. "I got a pair of New York Yankee Briefs one time - my dog got 'em though." He winced.
"Your dog ate them?" JD turned, his eyebrows raised.
"Yeah - "
" - Don't answer that question, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said, carefully adjusting himself on the sofa.
"I for one can't think of a better place for the Yankee logo than on Buck's ass," Vin said, pushing his blanket off his shoulders and toward his waist.
"It wasn't on my ass - "
"Can we please change the subject?" Ezra said, carefully pushing himself up with is right arm.
"What about you, Ezra, what was the coolest thing you ever got in your stocking?" JD waited.
Ezra sighed and looked out the window toward the falling snow. "When I was six, my mother got me a Roger Maris baseball card."
The room went silent except for the soft echoes of snow hitting glass.
"What year?" Buck's voice shook and the color of his face drained to a bright white.
Josiah fell back against the sofa and sighed. Nathan reached for his glass of water and wishing it were something stronger he drank it down. Buck's jaw dropped and looked into space, like man who'd just lost his brain. Vin chuckled and shook his head, seemingly not surprised, while JD furrowed his brow contemplating Ezra's answer.
"You've got a signed Roger Maris rookie year baseball card and you've never showed it to us?!" Buck said, finding his voice. "My God man!"
"You got that in your stocking when you were six?" JD choked on his tongue.
"Where is it, the card?" Nathan's eyes were twice their normal size.
"In a deposit box." Ezra shook his head. "What about you, Mr. Sanchez?"
Josiah took a deep breath, having spent his time dreaming about baseball cards and their worth. "Well, I never got anything remotely like what you got, but I did receive a toy toolset that I destroyed trying to build my mother a stool."
Nathan chuckled and shook his head: "You're so noble."
"So tell us, brother, what you received?" Josiah said, watching as Buck stoked the fire.
Nathan smiled, remembering fond memories of he and his sisters racing down the stairs Christmas morning. "It was left up to us kids to fill the stockings, and my sisters filled mine one year with bouncy balls."
"The whole stocking?" Buck turned.
"We didn't have huge stockings because we didn't have the money, but yeah, they filled the entire stocking with bouncy balls of all sizes and colors - I had so much fun with those things. I used to go out to the baseball field and hit them with my aluminum bat and man those things could go forever."
Chris chuckled: "I can see you doin' that."
"What about you, Chris?" JD asked, reaching for the bowl of stale chips.
Chris sighed and braced his hand against his side. "Stockings weren't a big thing in my family, mostly seen as nick-knacks that took up space, but there was one year when my father was gone...my mother got my sister a couple stocking stuffers. She filled a pair of my father's old socks with candy and some toys." He smiled, looking toward the stove, remembering the look on his mother's face when he opened his stocking. It hadn't been much, but the meaning was real. "I saved the toys and gave them to Adam on his fourth Christmas."
The room went quiet and the thought of missing Christmas with family, good or bad, was weighing heavy on them all.
"What do you think the Green River Killer got in his stocking?" JD asked, trying to break the silence.
"Are you kidding me?" Buck tossed a pillow across the room. "The Green River Killer, shit, the whole world's coming to an end and you're asking about that monster?"
"It was a good question," JD said, tossing a stale chip back into the bowl.
The banging at the front door caused everyone to jump and then moan in pain. Chris winced when he slowly got to his feet, carefully protecting his ribs as he walked toward the door. He peeked out the window and shrugged before opening the door.
Snow blew inside and a figure dressed heavily in winter clothing slowly started to remove the scarf he had wrapped around his head. He stepped inside, pushing past Chris and closed the door.
"I saw your plane go down yesterday," the man said, shrugging out of his gear. "I'm Jerry Foth, I run the ranger station about eight miles east of here."
"Thank God," Ezra said, moving his legs from the sofa so his feet were on the floor.
"It'll be a couple of days before we can get you out of here, I wasn't sure I'd find anyone alive." He moved around the room, kneeling by Vin's raised leg. "This storm should pass in a day or two and then we can transport you all to the station by snowmobile and from there by chopper."
"This happen a lot?" Vin pulled the blankets up and around his shoulders.
"More than you'd think." Jerry looked at the stack of wood, knowing he'd have to find more. "I've got food, a radio, and some medical supplies with me...should be enough to last us - "
" - We can't go now?" Nathan asked.
"Even with 15 years of working in these mountains, I can get lost or trapped in a snowdrift. It's better that we wait. I see a few broken bones, some contusions," he looked toward Ezra, "broken shoulder?"
"Dislocation," Nathan said, "but we managed to get it reset."
"Good. I'll radio the station and let them know I've found seven survivors and then I'll have them notify your families or anyone else you'd like us to. You'll all be taken to our medical facility and unless someone's suffering from something more severe that what I see here, you should all be on a plane headed home before Christmas."
Sighs of relief echoed.
"So," Buck said, "What do you have to eat?"